Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, Ganja, has been hit by heavy shelling today as the country’s forces exchanged heavy rocket and artillery fire with Armenia over disputed territory.
Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh has intensified between the two nations’ forces in the last week, with the breakaway region’s capital and Azerbaijan’s Ganja both hit today.
Armenia said that Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert, which has been under shelling since Friday, was hit again today with regular explosions and clouds of black smoke rising in parts of the city.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said meanwhile that Armenian forces had shelled Ganja, a city of more than 330,000 in western Azerbaijan, with footage showing buildings in ruins.
People help an injured man in a bomb shelter during shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert
The two sides accused each other of targeting civilian areas, as the conflict widened a week after heavy fighting broke out in the decades-old dispute over the ethnic-Armenian region.
More than 220 people are thought to have died in the conflict during the past week.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have resisted international calls for a ceasefire and clashes have intensified in recent days, with both sides claiming victories on the front and saying they are inflicting heavy losses.
Fire burns in a residential area after shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, Azerbaijan, today
Buildings are seen in ruin and disrepair after recent shelling in Stepanakert, today
A man walks through the rubble past an overturned and burnt-out car in Stepanakert, today
In a fiery address to the nation, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev set conditions for a halt to the fighting that would be near-impossible for Armenia to accept.
He said that Armenian forces ‘must leave our territories, not in words but in deeds’ and provide a timetable for a full withdrawal.
Yerevan must also recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, apologise to the Azerbaijani people and admit that the region is not part of Armenia, Aliyev said.
An injured woman brought to hospital in Ganja, Azerbaijan, following shelling on the city
People shelter in the basement of the main church of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region’s main city of Stepanakert
Families take cover from the shelling in a church in Stepanakert
President Ilham Aliyev said: ‘Nagorno-Karabakh is our land. We have to go back there and we are doing it now.
‘This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs.’
Why Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting
WHAT AND WHERE IS NAGORNO-KARABAKH?
Karabakh is a region within Azerbaijan which has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since a full-scale separatist war ended in 1994, after killing about 30,000 people and displacing an estimated one million.
Nagorno-Karabakh is about 1,700 square miles in size, but Armenian forces also occupy other nearby territory.
HOW DID THE CONFLICT START?
Long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azerbaijanis began boiling over as the Soviet Union frayed in its final years. Once the USSR collapsed in 1991 and the republics became independent nations, war broke out.
A 1994 cease-fire left Armenian and Azerbaijani forces facing each other across a demilitarised zone, where clashes were frequently reported.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE?
International mediation efforts have brought little visible progress. The conflict has been an economic blow to the Caucasus region because it has hampered trade and prompted Turkey to close its border with Armenia.
Fighting periodically breaks out around Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders, often deadly, notably in 2016 and this July. Since new fighting erupted on Sunday, dozens have been killed and wounded in apparent shelling by both sides. Each country blamed the other.
WHAT´S THE BROADER IMPACT?
In addition to causing local casualties and damage, the conflict in the small, hard-to-reach region is also of concern to major regional players.
Russia is Armenia´s main economic partner and has a military base there, while Turkey has offered support to Azerbaijanis, fellow Muslims and ethnic brethren to Turks. Iran neighbors both Armenia and Azerbaijan and is calling for calm.
Meanwhile, the United States, France and Russia are meant to be guarantors of the long-stalled peace process, under the auspices of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Sirens were sounding and explosions were heard at regular intervals in Stepanakert, where residents were taking shelter including several families in the basement of the city’s Holy Mother of God Cathedral.
Armenia’s foreign ministry said Stepanakert and other towns had been hit, accusing Azerbaijani forces of ‘the deliberate targeting of the civilian population’.
There were reports of dead and wounded civilians in Stepanakert and the historic town of Shusha.
Azerbaijan said Ganja was under shell fire, including from areas outside of Karabakh in Armenian territory, with at least one civilian killed.
Karabakh’s separatist forces said they had targeted and destroyed an airbase in Ganja, but Baku denied this as a ‘provocation’.
Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey accused Armenia of ‘targeting civilians’ in Ganja and reiterated support for its fellow Turkic and Muslim country as ‘one nation, two states’.
Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan warned that it would now consider ‘military facilities in Azerbaijan’s big cities’ as legitimate targets.
‘I call on the residents of these cities to immediately leave,’ Harutyunyan said in a post on Facebook.
Azerbaijani officials claimed Sunday that Harutyunyan had been seriously wounded while in a bunker hit by bombing, but his office denied this.
Azerbaijan claims to have taken control of a string of settlements in recent days as well as a strategically important plateau.
Today Aliyev said his forces had retaken the town of Jabrayil, part of an area outside Karabakh seized by the separatists in the 1990s as a buffer zone, hailing it as an important victory. Armenia denied the claim.
Authorities in both countries have reported nearly 250 dead since the fighting began, including almost 40 civilians.
Armenian separatist forces have reported more than 200 dead – including 51 on Saturday – while Azerbaijan has not released any figures on its military casualties.
Azerbaijan said that two civilians had been killed in shelling today on the southern town of Beylagan, with residents seen picking through the rubble of destroyed homes.
‘I was baking bread when I heard explosions, I opened the door and saw that bombs were falling right into the yard,’ said one woman, showing journalists the blown-out windows and partially collapsed roof of her home.
In Armenia’s majority-Christian capital Yerevan, residents gathered in churches for services Sunday to pray and light candles.
‘I came to ask God for peace, for our country and our soldiers,’ Aytsemik Melikyan told AFP outside the Saint Sarkis Church.
Russia, the United States and France – who co-chair a mediation group that has failed to bring about a political resolution to the conflict – have called for an immediate halt to the fighting.
A man sweeps a street after a shelling attack in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, today
A man shows fragments of the projectile which he found at destroyed houses following a shelling in Terter, Azerbaijan, today
Thick black smoke rises from the aftermath of recent shelling in the disputed region’s main city of Stepanakert
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern over ‘the increase of casualties’ among civilians in a call with his Armenian counterpart on Sunday.
Armenia has said it is ‘ready to engage’ with mediators but Azerbaijan – which considers Karabakh under Armenian occupation – says Armenian forces must fully withdraw before a ceasefire can be brokered.
Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan during the collapse of the Soviet Union sparked a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.
Talks to resolve the conflict have made little progress since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
Local residents hide in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh as fighting escalates